In closing arguments Thursday in the murder trial of Lawrence Tatum Jr., defense attorney Stanley Sokolowski said prosecutors and police ignored evidence that Shawn Smith – not Tatum – murdered Paul Nathaniel Kennedy, 28, of Westwood.
The only real evidence collected by police, Sokolowski said, did not show Tatum, 54, killed Kennedy on Oct. 3, 2016. On the contrary, Sokolowski argued, the evidence suggested Shawn Smith, an eyewitness for the prosecution, may have committed the murder.
Kennedy was gunned down in his front yard in the 500 block of West Point Tap, apparently over a cell phone. Based on the science, Kennedy was shot from 2 inches to 3 feet away.
“They're just throwing stuff at the wall to see what sticks,” Sokolowski said.
Tatum has pled not guilty.
Sokolowski noted the only DNA on the 9 mm handgun – which was stolen – was from Smith, a convicted felon whose charges include burglary; and from two other unidentified persons. Those two were most likely the former owners of the gun, Sokolowski said.
Palestine police, Sokolowski said, did a poor job of collecting evidence to support Tatum's arrest.
The collected or trace evidence failed to show Tatum killed Kennedy, Sokolowski said. It did, however, put Smith at the scene, with gun shot residue on his clothing – clothing that was not sent to the lab until earlier this year, over two years after the crime.
“Science and evidence does not lie,” Sokolowski said.
Sokolowski said law enforcement seemed to completely discount the possibility that Smith murdered, or aided in the murder, even though evidence showed he possessed the gun, hid it after the murder, and laid low until he was certain Kennedy was dead and could not identify him.
In final arguments, Assistant District Attorney Scott Holden charged the jurors with finding Tatum guilty with murder, based on either the account of eye witness Shawn Smith, or Tatum’s own taped confession of what Holden described as “conspiracy to commit murder,” which would make him guilty by proxy.
Sokolowski criticized the strategy of trying to convict Tatum on the possibility of one charge or the other. “The prosecution wants to have their cake and eat it too,” he said.
On Wednesday, Smith provided chilling testimony of Tatum and Kennedy arguing in the front yard of Kennedy's house. At one point, Smith said, Tatum pulled a gun from his jacket and held it on Kennedy, whom Smith called “PK.”
“If you're gonna do it, do it,” Smith said Kennedy told Tatum. Tatum then shot him.
Holden argued that, if jurors believed Smith, then Tatum pulled the trigger and shot Kennedy. If they believed Tatum's story, he said, then Tatum was still the reason Kennedy was dead because he picked up Smith, before the two conspired to threaten Kennedy with a gun. In that scenario, Holden argued, Tatum is at fault for the murder for instigating the confrontation between Kennedy and Smith.
The jury – made up of three African Americans – one female and two males – one Asian male, six white females, and two white males – started to deliberate at 3 p.m. Thursday.
Kennedy’s uncle Bruce Barrett, cousin Bruce Barrett, Jr., his aunt, and his grandmother attended the trial Thursday.
District Judge Mark Calhoun released jurors at 5:15 p.m. They resume deliberations at 9:30 a.m. Friday.
Assistant District Attorney Holden and Cary Warren are prosecuting the case.
Tatum told law enforcement he went into Kennedy's house to talk to him. When they came out of the house, everything was okay. Then Kennedy became agitated that Smith was with Tatum.
Tatum said Kennedy bent down into the window area of the car to argue with Smith; he said Smith then shot Kennedy in the face.
A forensic pathologist for the State testified Kennedy died from the gunshot wound to the head. Autopsy photos showed Kennedy was shot in the left cheek. The bullet traveled at a downward angle, with the bullet penetrating the spinal cord and coming to rest in the medulla.
He also had a bruise to the back of his head, consistent with hitting his head on the concrete when he was shot.
Kennedy’s body tested positive for marijuana and alcohol and elevated levels of methamphetamine.
Otherwise, the doctor said, Kennedy was in good health.